DC Universe

Kingdom Come, Elliot S. Maggin, based on a story by Mark Waid and Alex Ross

kingdomFear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgement is come.
-Revelations 14:7

As a general rule, comics translate poorly into novels.  By this, I mean stories that have been released in comic form, as opposed to original novels.  There’s a lot of visual activity going on in the comics, which is hard to describe in novel form-especially given the amount of dialog that crams into a single panel of a comic book. The Life and Death of Superman, Knightfall, and No Man’s Land all have problems that fall into this category-much of what was put into the comic is lost in translation.

On the other hand, some comics survive the translation in flying colors.  Kingdom Come is one such book.  Based on a limited series of a few years ago, this book is set in the universe of DC comics…the one where Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman all call home.  More specifically, it takes place at some unspecified time in the future…in the next generation of heroes.  However, as the book makes clear quickly, “heroes” might be a misnomer.

The heroes we know are keeping a much lower profile, especially since Superman left Metropolis and vanished.  And it seems that new superhuman beings have been popping out of the woodwork.  Unfortunately, these heroes are often as bad as the villains.  The culmination of this unrestrained conflict is in Kansas, where the icon of this new breed of hero (a fellow with the apocalyptic name of Magog) causes a cataclysm of almost biblical proportions.

Which brings me to the main characters of this story.  The Spectre is a servant of…well, I won’t sugar-coat it.  It’s heavily implied that he’s a servant of God (I understand some of the comics have him as a manifestation of God’s wrath, eternally seeking Justice).  Once he was bonded to a human being, but now he’s become simply his power.  He needs a mortal man to guide his steps.  Enter Norman McCay, a minister in Metropolis, who has inherited visions from a former super-hero.  Together, the two explore the state of affairs with these new superhumans, what happened to the originals, and what happens when the disaster in Kansas strikes.

This was a terrific read.  The characters are still recognizable-Superman, psychologically beaten down, but determined to try to do the right thing, even though the path seems unclear to him.  Wonder Woman is the personification of the concept “Peace through Strength”, which gets a little out of hand as time goes on.  And Batman has become the ultimate schemer, rivaling even the schemes of Lex Luthor, Superman’s longtime enemy (who himself hasn’t exactly been keeping quiet).

There are other characters seen in this book, some of which are more recognizable than others; not all of the DC heroes have become entrenched in the popular consciousness.  However, Maggin manages to explain them all extremely well, through the eyes of Norman McCay.  McCay himself gets a bit more in-depth background than shown in the original comic series; he was the voice of normal humanity in the comics, and he only becomes more so in this novel.

A few wonderful touches:  Norman’s conversation with God (one sided, of course), trying to find enough faith to do the task the Spectre has asked of him.  Batman discovering-just for a moment-how Commissioner Gordon must have felt while the Batman was still active.  The development of Magog, who I was prepared to dislike heavily throughout the book, and who I actually began to feel some sympathy for (and given the events in this book, that’s a hell of a feat).  And my personal favorite, a background piece about the President of the country; when asked what she’d do if elected, her response is “Demand a recount.”  (At the time of this review, this response takes on whole new meanings!)

Read Kingdom Come.  It’s a great read, even if you gave up comics a long time ago.  The characters have grown up just like you have, and are far more interesting than they were ten, fifteen years ago.  The story is one of generational conflict, one as old as storytelling, and no less compelling for its age.

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The Flash: Stop Motion, by Mark Schultz

It’s over.  You’re too late.
-Words rarely spoken to Wally West, a.k.a. the Flash

He is a member of the Justice League of America, a group of the greatest heroes on Earth.  He stands amongst such legends as Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Batman.  Well, perhaps stands isn’t the right word-because he’s the fastest man alive.  He’s Wally West, but he’s better known as the Flash.  He’s not a character who gets the same reputation in the general public as these other well-known comic characters, but he’s the star of the show in the latest in a series of Justice League of America books-Stop Motion.

The book opens as the League is dealing with a large number of objects dropping towards the planet-meteor isn’t quite the right term.  This particular crisis leaves Wally feeling mostly like a fifth wheel, as this is a problem better suited to the powerhouses of the League.  Yet, he is able to perceive something about them that others cannot-even though it doesn’t seem to answer the question of where these objects came from.  He does, however, sense something else as he gazes at the fragment-something that seems to speak the name of Iris West-his aunt, and the wife of his predecessor, Barry Allen.  Before he can investigate that further, however, Wally gets word of some unusual murders in his home of Central City-unusual because they all happened simultaneously.

As far as plot goes, this is pretty standard fare.  This isn’t to say that this is a bad or boring book-it’s not.  There are murders going on, and there is an excellent explanation of what is going on, as fact after fact is uncovered.  But what really made this book for me was the various characters in it, and it all starts with Wally West.  I’ll admit that back in the day, I was more familiar with the Barry Allen version of the Flash, with the costume popping out of a ring instead of being stored as kinetic energy-but that character died saving the world (long story).  As a result, I was completely unfamiliar with the Wally West character.  I’m not sure how well he matches up with the version in the comics these days, but he certainly comes off as a different kind of hero here.  Married, works well with the local police, and doesn’t use a secret identity; he’s not Wally acting as the Flash-he’s Wally West, also known as the Flash.  And one has to admit, if you’re committing a crime out in the open, there are better places to do it than Central City-where the Flash can take care of a very large number of problems between seconds.

Wally’s got a good supporting cast in Stop Motion as well.  I’ll admit that I really liked the pair of Central City’s Finest, Jared Morillo and Fred Chyre-competent police officers in charge of metahuman issues, who also get the somewhat-less-than-joyous job of investigating these murders.  The difficulty of living with a speedster is illustrated by Wally’s wife, Linda, who is very supportive of his activities-even though it puts a significant burden on her to support the family (being a super hero doesn’t exactly help in paying the bills).  As an encounter with the doctors Pradash and Metz of S.T.A.R. Labs demonstrates, being a public superior doesn’t diminish the level of fascination that the general public has for them.

I’d be remiss, though, if I failed to mention Wally’s interactions with the League itself.  I did find it interesting that he has a slight inferiority complex compared with the heavy hitters (and is pointed out by no less than the Man of Steel himself).  It seemed odd to me-he’s been in the business for quite some time.  Seeing the other League members through his point of view puts an interesting spin on them-his awe of Superman, his respect of Wonder Woman, his discomfort of having the Martian Manhunter peeking into his mind, and the amazement that Green Lantern wields the vast power of a power ring and still appears to be fairly well balanced.

From the Watchtower of the League, to the streets of Central city, to a meeting at “the Great Constant”, I’d say that Stop Motion is a pretty decent book to spend an afternoon with-especially if you enjoy the adventures of the Justice League or the Flash in the comics; or if you’d like to get reacquainted with the super heroes you might have been reading about in your youth (or if, like me, you remember these guys from the old Saturday morning cartoons).  The Flash isn’t as darkly gritty as Batman or as powerful a Boy Scout as Superman, but he is a pretty normal guy in attitude.  Even if he’s the fastest man alive.

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